I suppose there will be many, many posts on the release of The Fault in Our Stars (TFIOS) movie today. People either hate it or love it. And many of them have not read the book by John Green. I encourage you – JUST READ IT. For several reasons…
The book validates the decision-making process of younger patients.
I’m a chaplain. Time after time, I have heard parents intervene and make health care decisions for their children. Not because the children WANT to do the next round of surgery or chemo or radiation, but because their parents have decided “what’s best for them.”
Legally, the parents have every right. The children are minors. The parents must buy the health insurance, be responsible for the bills, and drive/fly/bus the patient to their appointments. I get that. But what TFIOS suggests is that the health care decisions which impact someone else’s body need to at least be part of an honest, open discussion. Particularly when the treatments are experimental. Or when the risks/benefit equation is very, very hard to compute.
I’m NOT SAYING “don’t do chemo” or suggest that parents of chronically ill children give in to their demands. I AM suggesting that when we do not consider (at least briefly) the needs and preferences of the patient, we are imposing our will and our fears on someone else’s body. Physicians, nurses, researchers, ethicists, chaplains, social workers — we all need to be a part of the conversation. And conversation implies that one person is not doing all the talking.
OK, moving on.
The book speaks to the struggle to be “normal” when cancer has made everything about you “abnormal.”
Don’t downplay the desire to be “normal.” (That goes for all ages of humans, by the way.) Not to conform in a lock-step, dress-alike, look-alike way, but to have the feelings, questions, experiences, successes and failures that you experience be accepted as valid. And to some degree, to be “normalized.”
For example, you’re a high school student. You want to go to the football game. But you can’t. You can’t sit outside in the rain, cheering as your team goes through a mud bath slaughter, because your immune system has tanked. You feel left out. So does the kid in the band who got the puking virus and is staying home. Or the student who stays home to babysit younger sibs because the parents are working a second job.
Normalized – you understand that there are things everyone doesn’t get to do. But there are times that life is really unfair. And you don’t ever get what you want.
Reality for the cancer patient is that “normal” is not coming back. That’s a huge loss. And we down-play it.
The book reminds you that parents and children both have to grow up.
I do not parent my children now the way I did when they were 8 months and 4 years old. Or 8 years and 12 years.
They have grown up. I have grown up. Sort of.
I still make mistakes. I still don’t “get” it. But that doesn’t stop me from trying to be a loving, caring, engaged parent.
As the lead characters wrestle with their “new” adult decisions, I can only imagine what their parents are worrying about at home. I have sat on that couch and worried… and then had my fears dissipate. (Rarely have they been confirmed. I am blessed.)
The point is that the parents in this novel had to accept some decisions their young adult children made, even though they didn’t like them. Decisions that they may have agonized over before stepping back and letting their kids try something they would not have chosen for them. But – in the end, they listened to their children. I’d like to think they reflected back on their lives, their memories and their feelings from younger years. There’s not a lot to validate that in the book, but it makes sense.
The book demonstrates that life is for sharing, not retreating from or hiding. Even when you hurt.
When life is raw and grief is real, the first instinct we have is to curl up in a ball and eat all the chocolate. Or we decide that we will never, ever trust someone again.
All the reasons we come up with for NOT engaging life are (to put it politely) BOGUS.
About 60 gajillion years ago, I used to listen to a song by The Byrds. I would read the lyrics over and over. And I would cry.
Everybody’s been burned before
Everybody knows the pain
Anyone in this place
Can tell you to your face
Why you shouldn’t try to love someone
Everybody knows it never works
Everybody knows and me
I know that door that shuts
Just before you get to the dream
I know all too well
How to turn, how to run
How to hide behind, a bitter wall of blue
But you die inside if you choose to hide
So I guess instead, I’ll love you
How wonderful (and painful and scary) to discover those words are still true.
The book lets teens and young adults be themselves – with separate identities, interests and opinions from their parents.
I’m not much into RPG. Or programming. Or gaming. Or reading wise and esoteric tomes. I’m probably past my years of backpacking and rapids riding. But I love that my daughters have found things they enjoy in this life.
We do share in some things – a love for the beach. Having a herd of cats. Reading, reading, reading. Enjoyment of nature. Faith. Hope. And loving others.
The characters had to find their way through something their parents had not personally experienced. And their parents were wise enough to let them.
So – read the book. Really.
You may hate it, which is OK.
And now… here’s the movie trailer…